Through the Orient on the AIDA Stella – my first cruise

Admittedly, I have prejudices against cruises. It’s the same prejudices I have against package holidays in fenced-in hotel resorts: Predetermined program, little flexibility, hardly any contact with locals, too many people. I hate people. Not because of the sheer number of people, but because of the number of idiots. Bumping into people, squeezing through, being loud. Just not my thing.

So now, of all things, we’re going on a cruise ship and, to make matters worse, to a region where mistakes in public life can quickly end up in jail. We visit the Orient – friends and colleagues have persuaded me.

My first flight in the A380

Shortly before Christmas I get into an Airbus A380-800 of the airline Emirates in Düsseldorf at 20:45 with a cold and sore throat. I misunderstand the flight attendant’s seat instructions, at some point I find myself on the lower deck and am then accompanied back up to my seat. At least now I can say that I was once in the bar of an Airbus A380. for 10 seconds. Now I can die happy.

The flight to Dubai takes almost 6 hours with tailwind, over Bucharest the turbulences almost shake the board menu off my folding table. Apart from that the service and the food are excellent.

The in-flight media system “I.C.E” (Information, Communication, Entertainment) is very interesting for me as a technology and aviation freak. Real-time avionics data, camera images from cockpit, fuselage and tailplane perspective make the flight a real experience. Thanks to my cold, I’m awake all night and can’t get a wink of sleep, but I’m extremely tired. I follow our flight on the satellite map. We pass Syria in the east, then fly just past Mossul and Baghdad and finally land in Dubai at 5:50 am local time with 3 hours time difference. This planet is so small. For the flight in the A380 the journey was already worthwhile.

Dubai on arrival day – By jeep into the desert

Arriving in Dubai I have my first ‘aha’-experience. Noise is not welcome at the airport. So better don’t shout and don’t spread hecticness. Despite the crowds, it is extremely quiet at the airport and it is very organized. When a Chinese toddler starts to cry in the queue of the passport control because he doesn’t want to go in the direction his mother pulls him on the leash (Yes, right read, they had the child on a leash.), a friendly policeman waves the family out of the queue and controls the family preferentially. Great thing. Everybody won. In Germany the child would probably have terrorized the whole hall for 30 minutes with screaming.

Half an hour later it is light outside, we are taken in the bus to the AIDA Stella in the harbour “Port Rashid”. The cabin is ready for occupancy at 8:00 am. Short breakfast, then first a round of sleep. I do not want to exaggerate, but the cold is about to kill me.

The alarm clock rings at 2:00 pm. The 6 hours of sleep were worth it. Off we go from the ship to the cruise terminal, in front of which the four-wheel drive vehicles for the desert tour are already waiting.

Our driver takes us out of the city, past the old town, camel markets and horse racing tracks, until we finally leave the city behind us in an easterly direction. At some point we stop behind the entrance of a nature reserve. We get out of the car, I touch desert sand for the first time while our driver lets air out of the tires of our jeep, so that we can move better in the sand. On the now following drive, a little deeper into the desert, but still on a well-trodden path we see Oryx gazelles, desert foxes and other representatives of the fauna along the way.

Jeepsafari in der Wüste DubaisNote the angle as we drive down the stage – Nikon D500, Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM

Our driver turns right into the dunes. The speed of the engine increases and we drive through the part of the huge reserve that is open for jeep safari. At the beginning everybody is still happy about the up and down and the roller coaster feeling in the sand. 30 minutes later it has become quiet, two of us try desperately not to throw up. Totally my thing!

jeepsafarisonnenuntergangSunset in the desert – Nikon D500, Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM

After several short photo stops the trip ends in a kind of Bedouin camp. Here you can get food and drink, water pipe and dried dates.

Of course this is not a traditional desert village, but a tourist camp especially built for these jeep safaris. Nevertheless everything is arranged with love and a real oriental feeling comes up. I realize that my cold is suddenly blown away.

On the way back we are stuck in a traffic jam in Dubai. We look at the skyline, which some people might know from the AppleTV screensaver.

Back on the ship there is supposed to be a beer at 22:00 o’clock. Take it easy. Also because of the latent cold. Three “Swimming Pool” and two Corona later I am on the cabin at 01:00 o’clock.

The first day at sea

When we cast off the next day in Dubai I sit on the sun deck and edit the photos of the desert safari. The “Queen Elizabeth 2” and the “Costa Mediterranea” bid us farewell with the ship’s horn. The first day at sea lies ahead of us. Will I get bored? Now we will see.

I spend the day listening to a lecture about Oman, we go out for dinner twice, play billiards and air hockey several times.

Just past the Strait of Hormus, the weather turns. The sea becomes rougher, the wind freshens up considerably, a thunderstorm illuminates the sky and the lake and it flashes through the large windows of the Teatrium. The piano player plays “Let it be”, I drink a gin and tonic. An atmospheric, albeit surreal atmosphere.

I was not bored. But I have to admit that I find people sitting in the restaurant with flip-flops or cappies rather strange. The second day is coming to an end, I look once more from lower deck 5 at the sea illuminated by the weather and then go to sleep.

Mascat in Oman

On the third day my alarm clock rings at 05:45 in the morning. I get ready, leave the cabin and watch the sunrise over Oman from deck 5. It’s raining and the waves sometimes hit the railing slightly. An impressive scene.

Directly after docking in Muscat, I leave the ship for the booked excursion “Mystic Muscat”. At the port, every passenger receives a pass from the Royal Police of the Sultanate of Oman, which identifies him as a port tourist. At the exit, the port terminal is guarded by several policemen with rapid fire rifles. The sight was, shall we say, rather unusual for our eyes.

Our guide today is a native Indian. Like him, a lot of people from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh work in the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Sometimes only for 6 to 8 months during the tourist season. More than half of the inhabitants are immigrants. Our guide is cold, after all it is still raining. Today is one of two rainy days a year in Oman, he says. So we seem to have caught a great timing.

Promenade von Muscat (Mascat) im OmanPort promenade of Muscat – Nikon D500, Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM

The first destination we reach is the great mosque. According to our guide we have about 45 minutes time for this. We get out of the car and have to wait at the entrance for some time, because two guests did not notice that there are dress regulations in the mosques. But the mosque provides rental clothes for such cases. Unfortunately, the lady in question is now reluctant to put on worn clothes. Now we have only 40 minutes left. The couple is very uneducated. At some point they have finally put on their rented clothes and we can proceed to the inner courtyard of the mosque. I hope we’ll forget about those jerks when we leave and just leave them in Oman.

Kronleuchter in der Kuppel der großen Moschee von MascatDome in the Great Mosque of Muscat – Nikon D500, Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM

The mosque is impressively large and the terrain extremely clean. We first see the relatively simple women’s prayer room and then the large prayer room in the main building. A huge carpet, fine mosaics and huge chandeliers decorate the room. Somewhere in the crowd I catch the statement of a guide that the chandelier in the middle of the mosque should weigh almost 8 tons. I cannot believe that.

omanmoschee2Great Mosque of Muscat – Nikon D500, Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM

After visiting the prayer rooms we go back to the gardens of the mosque. Here an elderly gentleman and two ladies in long black robes, who are probably related to the community of the mosque, await us. They welcome us to Oman, are pleased that the country has developed in such a way over the last decades that we as tourists now come to them and serve us the traditional Kawa and dried dates. Your words seem sincere and your joy not played. I have the feeling that they want to give us a different impression of Islam than the one we might carry in our heads from the media and current affairs. You have achieved that.

Next destination: the Mascat Souk. It is one of the oldest markets in the Arab world. All kinds of goods are sold here, but mainly to tourists: fabrics, perfumes, art and souvenirs. The traders address the tourists directly, so one should be able to say no, otherwise one will be involved in a longer sales conversation. The prices are reasonable, but there is still room for negotiation, which sometimes one does not want to exhaust morally. Most of the booths are again serviced by Indians and Bangladeshis, and they are also very business friendly. If you make eye contact for a second or stand in front of a shop with interest, you are guaranteed to be approached and won’t be left alone again. I use the market to buy some small souvenirs for the family. But I buy these souvenirs at the only stand where we were not actively approached, with two Arabic looking older men. Both were simply friendly and reserved. Due to the previous rain it is extremely wet on the ground in the market. Thus, the whole complex was well rinsed and the flowing water does not necessarily make a very hygienic impression. The local people wait with sandals through the black, dirty water.

When we wait for the bus, it starts raining again. Like out of buckets. A restaurant owner sees that we are standing in the rain, runs to us and waves us hastily into his restaurant. I have to watch my camera, he says. We follow him and I am afraid that now we have to buy something from him. He even offers us a table where we are supposed to wait for the end of the rain. He is also happy that tourists come to his town and is extremely friendly to us. After some time I believe that he waved us in out of pure kindness and without ulterior motives.

Later we continue to the Sultan Museum and the Sultan Palace. Here we learn that hospitality is a tradition in Oman. As former desert nomads, it is a good custom to receive traveling guests. Therefore we are offered coffee and water. The museum shows a lot of information about the ruling sultan family and the habits of the population. The Sultan of Oman has put the country on a good path in recent years. Schools have been built, jobs created, the infrastructure has been improved and tourists have come to the country. The people of Oman therefore almost idolize him. Several posters and paintings on buildings show his portrait and the people here are proud of their secular ruler.

sultanspalastomanThe Sultan’s Palace in Muscat was built in the 70s by an Indian construction company for the Sultan – Nikon D500, Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM

The trip was certainly informative and interesting even if the weather was so bad. To be honest, I lacked a little flexibility. I would have liked to take more time for the mosque and Muscat itself and also would have preferred to determine the excursion time myself, after all the big mosque has to look breathtaking at nightfall, similar to the sultan’s palace. A trip on our own by taxi would probably have made this possible for us and saved us the contact to the stupid excursionists. Furthermore, one would probably have had more legroom than in the bus. Therefore, I recommend to take a taxi on your own and to visit the following places in Oman:

Back on board we finished the day in the “Anytime Bar” at the stern. I write this paragraph the following day at 15:00 and still have a headache.

Abu Dhabi – the fantastic sea of lights

Around 17:00 o’clock we reach the port of Abu Dhabi. On this fourth day, the AIDA shuttle bus takes us to the World Trade Center of Abu Dhabi, a central point in the city. From here we want to explore the city by taxi. Directly in front of the bus an alleged “taxi driver” intercepts us. He wants to drive us around the city for 50€ and wait for us for half an hour at each attraction. The half hour is too little for us and we refuse the offer. Unfortunately this dubious person is not satisfied with this and continues to bother us even when we want to get into a normal taxi.

With a regular taxi we now drive about 20km to the big Sheikh Zayid mosque in the east of the city. The ride costs us with a generous tip just under 15€.

Innenhof der Scheich Zayid-Moschee nach Einbruch der DunkelheitCourtyard of the Sheikh Zayid Mosque after dark – Nikon D500, Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM

Both the outside of the mosque and the prayer rooms are simply breathtaking. Water games in the outside area, gold leaf on the countless columns, finest reliefs and carved writings take our breath away. I have seen many special buildings, be it castles in Scotland, chateaux on the Loire or wooden churches in Norway, but this is in a different league. I can only recommend everyone to visit this mosque in the dark. The lights blue illuminated domes and the illuminated prayer courtyard unfold their full charm in the evening. Be sure to bring a tripod for photos.

moscheeabudhabi2Entrance to the Sheikh Zayid Mosque – Nikon D500, Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM

From the mosque we take a taxi to the Marina Mall, again a ride of 20km, again 15€ including tip. First we have a short look into this hyper shopping stamp. Here it should be said that one should not necessarily drink from the public drinking fountains. Unless you are up for long lasting diarrhoea.

Abu Dhabi MarinaBlue water even after dark – Nikon D500, Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM

Right next to the mall we find great viewpoints on the shore with views of the State Palace, the Hotel of the Emirates and the skyline of Abu Dhabi on Corniche Road / First Road.

abudhabiskylineThe skyline of Abu Dhabi with the Corniche Road – Nikon D500, Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM

Again, a tripod is recommended for taking pictures. The water is, due to the sand, deep blue even in the dark.

emiratespalaceabudhabiRight the Emirates Palace Hotel – Nikon D500, Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM

For another 15€ we go back to the ship. At the latest now it becomes clear that the dubious “taxi driver” from the World-Trade-Center would have exploited us properly.

The next day we go to the Eastern Mangroves for a kayak tour through the mangrove swamps. We start our kayak tour at the “Eastern Mangroves & Spa Hotel”. First we pass a pipeline deeper into the nature reserve. In the surroundings of the pipeline, which runs along the edge of the reserve, there is a strong smell of petrol. Something is rotten here. Nevertheless, the water is crystal clear, the bird life sits in the mangrove woods, later we have a possibility to swim on the beach in the reserve. But the pipeline clouded the overall picture.

Kayaktour in den Mangroven Abu DhabisShort swimming break during the kayak tour through the mangroves – iPhone 8 Plus inbuild wideangle lens

Here, once again an advantage of the cruise becomes clear: in advance, we did not have to worry about booking or transfer for even one minute. We booked this excursion, were taken directly from the ship to the starting point, everything was organized and we could fully concentrate on the moment. Different to the rather stressful bus tours with several stops we had plenty of time for this one activity.

Those who do a kayak tour here need some change of clothes and should also have a waterproof mobile phone cover in order to be able to take pictures. Although many of today’s smartphones are already waterproof, this does not prevent them from going under. Alternatively you can of course take a GoPro with you.

Back on the ship I sit down in the sauna despite 26° outside temperature in the wellness area. That might be a bit disturbed, some might think, but I have never sauned in such an unreal setting before. With a view to the skyline of Abu Dhabi in the background of the harbour terminal, it is an excellent place to sweat. Abu Dhabi was my personal highlight of the whole cruise.

Manama, the capital of Bahrain

This will be a short section. With the shuttle bus we went from AIDA Stella to the capital Manama. Here we first explored the souk, an Arabic market. However, this is not a market of flying merchants, but rather a kind of district with many shops.

Lampenladen im Souk von BahrainOriental lamps in the souk of Bahrain – Nikon D500, Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM

Fake watches, fabrics, partly fake smartphones but also some nice souvenirs can be bought here. I would not trust in principle that the goods are in any way original parts. A visit is worthwhile and somehow belongs to it. But there are nicer souks and if, then I would recommend the souk at nightfall. The many lights of the shops then create a nicer atmosphere. During the day the district rather awakes a kind of developing country charm, if one can speak of it at all.

Strassen in der Nähe des Souks von BahrainRoads near the souk Bab el Bahrain in Manama – Nikon D500, Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM

We also took a look at the World Trade Center of Manama from the outside. It is the iconic building that consists of two towers connected in the middle, with wind turbines generating electricity between them.

World Trade Center BahrainWorld Trade Center in Bahrain with its two towers with wind turbines – Nikon D500, Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM

After visiting both places, Bahrain was the most disappointing place of the cruise for me. Back on the ship we looked at photos of other fellow vacationers from Manama and were amazed at the beautiful places our table neighbors had found in the capital of Bahrain. The beach promenade should definitely be worth a visit. I think we simply looked at the wrong or too few places in Bahrain:

Return journey to Dubai and city exploration

The outlines of Dubai appear in the haze above the horizon as we approach the port “Port Rashid” with the AIDA Stella, where our cruise also began. In front of us lies the most exhausting day of our journey.

dubaiimdunstDubai appears in the haze – Nikon D500, Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM

In the harbour we take a taxi to the next metro station and from there to the Dubai Mall. Our taxi driver gives us the advice to take the taxi directly. That is cheaper. He is also right. We tell him that we want to experience the “Metro-Experience”. He laughs and drops us off at the “Al Jafiliya” Metro Station. The people here are all courteous and amazingly open.

We get into the metro and are haunted by bad looks. Awkward, because we got on in the women’s compartment. A friendly local man signals that we should follow him, laughs at us and leads us into the mixed compartment of the train. It is not that women are not allowed to ride with the men, but that they are allowed a part of the train by not being harassed. Of course, this does not make our faux pas any better, quite the contrary. Typical tourists. If the young man hadn’t helped us, we would probably have had to pay a fine of 100 Dirham per person.

Arrived at the station “Dubai Mall / Burj Khalifa” we press our noses to the windows of the station to be able to see the Burj Khalifa, the highest building in the world. Again an older man, who is completely strange to us, speaks to us. He tells us in English that we should follow the passenger conveyor belt for a few more meters, then we would be able to see the tower on our right. He says goodbye with a smile. The people here are incredibly helpful and courteous. We notice this again some time later when our Metro ticket falls out of our pockets. A complete stranger follows us, talks to us, hands over the lost ticket and wishes us a nice day. Unbelievable.

We look at the Dubai Mall. This is totally sick. Fish swim in shop windows, a huge shark aquarium juts out in the middle of this superlative shopping centre. This heavily air-conditioned temple of consumption puts everyone else in the shade. Due to its size it is neither cosy nor inviting, rather anonymous and overwhelming. Nevertheless, you have to see it once.

dubaimallThe shark aquarium in the Dubai Mall – Nikon D500, Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM

With the Metro we go from here to the “Dubai Marina”. On Thursdays you can see here the exotic cars of the rich inhabitants of Dubai, because it is the last day before the weekend. Many have now time to splash around a little with the car. But also away from the cars “Dubai Marina” has a lot to offer. Blue water, the marina, bluish window fronts of the surrounding high-rise buildings.

dubaimarinaDubai Marina – Nikon D500, Sigma 17-50mm F2,8 EX DC OS HSM

We continue on foot to the monorail for the crossing on Palm Island. Meanwhile it is 13:00 o’clock and I cannot feel my feet anymore.

Here we see the famous hotel “Atlantis The Palm” with the water park of the same name.

Already in the morning we had reserved in the cruise terminal for the visit of the Burj Khalifa ticket for 6:00 pm. This was more expensive than booking the tickets directly on the official website of the tourist attraction, but we didn’t want to enter our credit card data in the free and unencrypted WLAN of Port Rashid. Those who plan far enough in advance should book the tickets comfortably from home already before the beginning of the holiday. This saves money and makes sure that one is really allowed to visit the tower on the desired date.

From “Palm Island” we take the monorail back to the mainland, then take the metro back to the station “Dubai Mall / Burj Khalifa”. Unfortunately we did not know how to get from here to the tower. The friendly security people explain the way to us and we realize that we have to walk back to the Dubai Mall to get from there underground to the tower. Now time is pressing. Finally we make it in the last second to cash in our 18:00 o’clock ticket.

After passing the security checks the elevator takes us to the 124th floor in only 55 seconds. Here the visitor platform “AT THE TOP” awaits us at a height of about 500 meters. If you get a little bit down on your knees, you can feel the building moving inside you. From the outer platform you have a breathtaking view over the whole of Dubai.

dubaiburjkhalifaView from Burj Khalifa from 500 meters height – Nikon D500, Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM

Those who want to spend a little more money can go up to the second visitor platform on the 148th floor (555m high). Here, there is less crowd, the floor is a little more stylishly furnished and small meals and appetizers are served. Unfortunately we did not find out about this until we were back on the ship.

dubaifountainsThe Dubai Fountains near the Dubai Mall shine in the light of the surrounding high-rise buildings – Nikon D500, Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM

From the Dubai Fountains we take a taxi back to Port Rashid. I ask our Pakistani driver how life is in Dubai and how the Arabs deal with the immigrants, if there are any tensions. The living together is good. It is quite OK, he puts it into perspective a little later. Showing his own wealth does not fit in with his own culture. Even if you have money in Pakistan, you wouldn’t want to rub everyone’s nose in it. These differences naturally create points of friction. But on the whole he is satisfied.

Our Pakistani taxi driver thinks German tourists are great. They are always nice and friendly, he says. He also knows Hitler and Angela.

On the ship there is a “Lynchburg Lemonade” in the Anytime Bar. One last time I enjoy my cocktail with a view of Dubai’s skyline and go to bed afterwards.

It will not have been my last cruise. You see more than just staying in a single hotel, a single city. Nevertheless, one always has one’s own room at hand and does not have to move from hotel to hotel. The booked excursions save a lot of organisational efforts in the run-up and also during the trip. Partly, without the excursion program of the AIDA Stella, one would not have heard about all the attractions. But I would advise against extensive bus excursions. Too little time at interesting places, constant looking up at the clock and too many daft fellow travellers. Then I would rather go on an exploratory trip by taxi.

After only 3 hours sleep the alarm clock rings and the bus takes us to Dubai International Airport. On the wings of an Airbus A380 from Emirates we travel home for Christmas.

The accompanying video

I have created a travel video with very little effort. So no gimbals, no stabilization and almost no editing effort. Just to remind you.

What photographic equipment did I have with me?

In the following you will find affiliate links to my used equipment:

All the links in this text are Amazon Affiliate Links, and by clicking on an affiliate link I will earn a percentage of your subsequent Amazon purchases. However, this circumstance does not influence the background of my product recommendation. This product recommendation is independent, honest and sincere. 

Bei allen genannten Links in der Videobeschreibung handelt es sich um Amazon-Affiliate-Links.Durch einen Klick auf einen Affiliate-Link werde ich prozentual an Euren darauf folgenden Amazon-Einkäufen beteiligt. Dieser Umstand beeinflusst aber nicht die Hintergründe meiner Produktempfehlung. Diese Produktempfehlung erfolgt unabhängig, ehrlich und aufrichtig.